Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Guns and FBI Investigations

I’ve seen a meme floating around lately that starts something like this:

If you’re under investigation by the FBI, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun.

It’s generally posted by someone wanting to defend gun rights, and followed up with a quip about how Hillary is also under FBI investigation and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to run for President. The meme is funny, but rather useless, because it can easily be used to make multiple points on multiple sides of multiple arguments. It has no ground truth. Most importantly, it seems to imply that there’s a group of people advocating that we start taking away rights based on whether you’re under investigation for… well, anything.

While I don’t like the idea of allowing people we know are potential terrorists to purchase firearms, I also don’t like the idea of allowing the executive branch of the government to take away someone’s constitutional rights simply because they’re “under investigation”.

If you think about it, the only branch that has the power to suspend someone’s constitutional rights on an ongoing basis is the judicial branch. Sure, the police or the FBI (executive branch) can arrest you and hold you, but only for a limited time, and only with Judicial oversight. They can’t take away your right to speak your mind, your right to worship, your right to vote, or your right to legal counsel just because they think you might be a “bad guy”. Some of the aforementioned rights can be taken away if you’re convicted of a crime, but 1) only after a trial or a guilty plea, and 2) even then, the courts are very conservative in what they take. Even those in prison are allowed freedom of religion, though they obviously can’t choose their place of worship.

To allow the government to deny you your rights simply on the basis of an investigation is to take a great leap down the road to tyranny. Think about what the term “under investigation by the FBI” implies – the FBI thinks you might have broken the law, or that you might be about to break the law. They’re investigating you because they don’t have the evidence to prove it. An investigation mean’s they’re looking for evidence, not that they have any, and they can keep investigating you as long as they want. To say that someone shouldn’t be able to buy a gun because they’re under FBI investigation is to say that you should be denied your constitutional rights simply because the government is looking for evidence that you broke the law.

I think there probably is a fair way to ensure that potential terrorists can’t buy or own firearms, but it’s going to involve a higher standard than “under investigation”, and it’s going to require action from Congress and oversight from the federal courts.



Someone is wrong on the Internet, and for once, I’m going to try to correct them.

First, I was shocked to hear that Justice Antonin Scalia had died. Regardless of your politics, it’s important to realize that one doesn’t become a supreme Court justice without being very intelligent and having some serious legal credentials. The members of the supreme Court have an incredible level of power (and responsibility) to shape our laws, our legal system, and our government. I respect all of them, and realize that they may see issues from a different perspective than I do, and that just because we disagree, it doesn’t make either of us stupid, or even necessarily wrong.

Regarding a replacement justice, I think it’s important that the President and the Senate look for someone they can agree on, and put them on the court before the end of the election cycle. The Majority Leader’s announcement that he does not intend to consider a replacement until next January smacks of the same obstinace that’s kept Congress from doing much useful for the last few years.

Now comes the part where I try to fix the discussion on the Internet.

  1. To say that SCOTUS is “designed to function with 9 justices, not 8”, is simply wrong. The constitution simply says that there will be a supreme Court. It implicitly leaves the size of the court to be determined by Congress. The court historically has ranged in size from  six to ten justices. The quorum (number of Justices that have to be present to do anything) has varied from four to six [1]. The current configuration is one chief justice, 8 associate justices, any six of whom constitute quorum. The court isn’t “designed” to function with any particular number of justices, but if it were, I’d argue that the number is 6, not 9.
  2. To say that Senate Republicans are trying to “take Obama’s Presidential powers away from him” is disingenuous, or at the very least, misleading. The constitution makes it clear that the the President’s power to appoint comes from the Senate[2]:

[The President]… by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate… shall appoint… Judges of the supreme Court

The wording “by the Consent of the Senate”, suggests that the power originates with the Senate. It limits the power to choose appointees to the President, but makes it clear that he can only do that if the Senate lets him. Senate Republicans aren’t taking the President’s constitutional powers, they’re exercising theirs.

If you’re going to complain about our leaders ignoring or violating the constitution, you would do well to actually know what it says first. Don’t expect me to care about your argument if you don’t.

[1] Judiciary acts of 1798, 1807, 1837, 18631866, and 1869.
[2] Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 2

Arch Linux Update Script

I run several Arch Linux boxes at home. Updating these boxes involves a number of redundant actions: download new packages on each machine, install the package on each machine,  and store every previously installed package on each machine. I recently wrote a script to eliminate two of these redundancies.

The script mounts a package cache from an NFS server before running pacman, and downloads and installs the packages from the NFS mount. After finishing the install, the script unmounts the NFS share and rsyncs the currently installed packages to the local package cache. Finally, the script cleans the cache, removing all old versions of packages.

Using this script enables me to do several things:

  1. I only download new packages once. Installs on other machines use the package from the NFS cache.
  2. I can keep a full history of all installed packages in a central place
  3. I keep the package caches on my machines down to a manageable size.

You can download the script at

My Mobile Upgrade (follow-up)

In part 1 1, I told you why I switched to Ting. Now I’ll tell you about my experience. I have nothing bad to say about Ting. They really are what every services company should strive to be. There are many great elements to Ting’s approach to providing wireless service. I’m just going to write about two of them: pricing and customer service.

Pricing. Ting has one clear price structure. Ting charges for 4 things: activated lines, voice minutes, texts, and megabytes. The price per unit for each of these is listed clearly on their website. Ting bills $6/month per activated device. Ting applies a tiered price structure for minutes, texts, and data. Ting has structured their pricing so that each service gets cheaper (per unit) as you use more of it. All of the devices on an account contribute to the same buckets of texts, minutes, and data. Ting bills you at the end of the month for each line plus total usage on the account. That about covers the pricing structure. It’s simple, easy to understand, and easy to optimize.

Customer Service. Ting’s customer service is so pleasant I almost wish I had to use it more. I’ve had to work with them on two occasions. The first was about a month after I switched. The touchscreen on my phone quit working. I couldn’t call them, so I had to contact them via email. My timing wasn’t great, as their customer service isn’t (or at least wasn’t at the time) very active on weekends. When they did respond, I could tell that I was working with someone who 1) cared about my problem, 2) had the power to fix it, and 3) wanted to fix it. They sent me a few troubleshooting steps (just to confirm non-functionality). Within a day or two they had shipped me a replacement phone.

My second encounter occurred a few months ago. Somehow, Ting lost my credit card information and was unable to bill my account. I received an email one morning telling me that I would need to update my payment info within 24 hours or risk an interruption in service. I went online and reentered my info, but I wanted to be confident that the problem was actually resolved. I called Ting’s customer service line. A customer service rep picked up the phone within 3 rings. After I explained my problem, the rep confirmed my payment info and then billed my account just to make sure everything was correct. The call was over in less than 5 minutes, and the person who answered the phone was the one that fixed my problem. Oh, did I mention they were friendly and pleasant to talk to?

In short, I’m very satisfied with Ting and look forward to future interaction with them.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of signing up for Ting, please use this referral link:
You get $25 toward a new device, and I get $25 credited to my account.

Thinkpad T430s Review (Part 2)

I guess it’s about time that I start posting some of the follow up posts that I keep mentioning but never writing. I’ll start by finishing up my review of the Thinkpad T430s.

Everything I said in part 1 still holds true. The laptop is sturdy and has a great keyboard. My laptop is now over a year old, and the only problem it has is cosmetic (and partially my fault). There are two badges on the back of the screen: a “ThinkPad” badge and a “lenovo” badge. The lenovo badge has metal lettering with a thick plastic backing. Unfortunately the edges of the letters have sharp corners. At some point, I caught the corner of the first “e” in lenovo on a sleeve or a bag and pulled it up from the backing. For now, the first half of the badge is covered in a strip of scotch tape; I cut myself on the protruding metal twice on the day I pulled it up. Other than that, the laptop still looks and works about like it did when it was new.

I occurs to me that I still haven’t mentioned what hardware is inside my laptop:

  • CPU: Intel Core i5-3320M, 2.6 Ghz, 3.3 Ghz Turbo, 3M L3 cache
  • Hard Disk: 320GB Seagate Momentus Thin ST320LT007-9ZV142
  • Wireless: Intel Advanced-N 6205
  • Graphics: Intel HD4000

There’s not much to say about performance; it’s been several years since PCs became fast enough to handle normal workloads without breaking a sweat. I can say that so far, this configuration has been fast enough to satisfy all of my needs. I can’t think of a situation where I wished I had spent more money for more performance. Even the spinning disk is fast enough to satisfy me most of the time; I’ve actually been impressed by how fast it is compared to other mobile drives I’ve used. Of course, it helps that I keep the laptop in suspend most of the time. I rarely reboot more than once a week.

A note on the hard drive: the T430s will not accept 9.5mm drives. I had originally planned to upgrade to a 500GB hybrid drive, but the space under the palm rest is too thin on one side. Last time I looked, there is exactly one model of 7200 RPM 7mm 500GB drive in production. It’s not terribly expensive, but I have yet to feel the demand for the space, and I’m pretty satisfied with performance at the moment.

Finally, there’s external I/O. I’ll start on the left side of the open laptop and work my way around. First, there’s the express card slot. The T430s has a 34mm version; I ordered it with the SD reader option. The face of the slot angles down/back a bit, which makes it a difficult to get SD cards in and out. Once or twice I’ve actually ejected the reader from pushing on it too hard.

Next is the combination speaker/headphone port. It seems to work fine with normal headphones. I haven’t tried any headsets in this port. Conventional microphones don’t seem to work in this port.

A USB 3.0 port sits next to the audio port. Personally, I’d rather have a USB port on the right side of the machine, but I don’t consider this a significant issue. The only USB 3.0 device that I’ve tested in this port is a 5400 RPM laptop drive. USB 3.0 is fast. I have USB 3.0 on a few other devices, and USB 3.0 hard disks may as well be plugged in to the SATA bus. I haven’t yet encountered a situation where the USB interface was the bottle neck.

The first port on the back of the laptop is a VGA connector. VGA still isn’t dead, and I use this port somewhat regularly.

Next to the VGA port is a yellow, always-on USB 2.0 port. By always-on, I mean that it will provide power even when the laptop is suspended or turned off. I’ve used this feature several times to charge my phone. It’s really convenient to have; almost up there with the backlit keyboard.

For digital video output, I have a mini DisplayPort. I like DisplayPort, as it’s easy to convert from it to just about any other digital output. I ordered a converter to go from mini DisplayPort to HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort from Monoprice. The converter isn’t very big (just big enough to accomodate all three ports), and I haven’t had any problems using it. I don’t know whether it allows you to use more than one output at a time (haven’t tried).

Next there’s another USB 3.0 port, and then a Gigabit Ethernet port. I’ve been seeing full Gigabit speeds on the Ethernet port. Finally, there’s a power port. It’s for the standard Lenovo 20V adapter. There are no ports on the right side of the laptop, just the DVD drive and the wireless switch. There is a docking station connector on the bottom of the laptop, though I doubt I’ll ever own one.

I don’t think I could have done any better on my purchase, even if I had spent more money. This laptop is exactly what I need. I haven’t found it lacking in any way, and assuming Lenovo doesn’t destroy the brand, my next laptop will be a ThinkPad.